March 31, 2023

It’s National Public Health Week – Get to Know Your Public Health Department!

This year, National Public Health Week is April 3-9. The observance serves to promote awareness and celebrate the work of public health. But what exactly is public health work? You may be aware of public health’s role with COVID-19, but did you know that the work is much more extensive? Public health is about protecting the health of an entire population. For the Cambridge Public Health Department, that means all people who live, learn, work, play, or spend time in Cambridge. Below we highlight some of the work we do to support the health and well-being of the Cambridge community.

If you’ve ever needed to report a foodborne illness in Cambridge, you probably spoke to one of our Public Health Nurses. They focus on health promotion and disease prevention and control (including foodborne illness). Our Public Health Nurses oversee our many flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics. They also provide care for people with tuberculosis at Cambridge Health Alliance. 

Our Epidemiology and Data Services team often works with our Public Health Nurses. They monitor communicable and chronic diseases and also investigate disease outbreaks. The team maintains a range of data sets, enabling updates to the Cambridge COVID-19 Data Center and other information sources. They also track data for our vaccine clinics.

The department also provides school health services in the Cambridge Public Schools. Our School Health Staff include registered nurses, vision and hearing specialists, health assistants, and a social justice and health equity specialist. They are responsible for a wide range of tasks such as linking families to primary care providers and other resources, and ensuring that all students are appropriately immunized.

Did you know that our health department has an Oral Health Division to promote dental health throughout the community? The team administers the Cambridge Healthy Smiles Program, an education program in the public schools. This program promotes the Sip, Swish, Swallow campaign, which gives students water bottles to encourage students to drink water while at school and in turn, promote healthy oral and overall health.  

When we think of emergency preparedness we often think of an extra set of batteries, but not knowing our neighbors. Both can be important when disasters strike! This is why the Equity, Resilience and Preparedness Unit is working to help foster stronger neighborhood connections by promoting block parties and “getting to know your neighbors” events. Public health plays a vital role in emergency preparedness and this unit works with other first responders to lead the city’s disaster preparedness efforts. The team manages the Cambridge Community Corps, a program of ambassadors who are in the community to answer, inform, and provide supplies to the public. 

The Environmental Health Unit offers a variety of programs intended to protect residents, workers, and students from environmental threats that can lead to poor health. Laboratory biosafety, tattoo and body art, and indoor ice rinks are just some of the many permits administered by the Environmental Health team. 

Cambridge is unique in regulating the care and use of laboratory animals. The city’s ordinance provides oversight of research activities involving animals that exceeds the standard federal regulations. This oversight is performed by our Commissioner of Laboratory Animals, who is a licensed veterinarian, and ensures proper veterinary care and humane treatment throughout an animal’s time in a facility. The Commissioner also provides education related to zoonotic diseases, which are infections that spread between animals and people.  

Early literacy programs are also part of the health department. The Agenda for Children Literacy Initiative is an initiative that offers three programs: Let’s Talk; Cambridge Dads; and Pathways to Family Success. Literacy activities include StoryWalks, parent and caregiver events, and playgroups. 

Our department aims to support the Cambridge Community in living healthy lives. This is why our Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL)  team promotes access to healthy foods as well as being physical active. The unit works on a wide range of topics, including assisting and supporting SNAP Match and other benefits at farmers markets; promoting bike usage; working with the schools to provide healthy meals; and helping to administer beekeeping permits

Last but certainly not least, improving mental and behavioral health is a priority for the health department. The Mental and Behavioral Health Promotion Unit works to support mental and behavioral health as well as substance use prevention. Some of the unit activities include overdose prevention events, a Health Promotion Mini-Grants Program, and youth wellness promotion

This is just a brief overview of Cambridge Public Health Department activities throughout the year. We do much more, in collaboration with our many partners, in our efforts to keep the Cambridge community safe and healthy. If you would like to learn more about the health department, please explore more of our website, read our Annual Report, and follow us on social media: Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter